The Denver Post dropped a bombshell this morning, officially declaring specialty coffee is in the “fourth wave” of innovation, ideas, and practices. This marks the end of an era for some, who have long considered specialty coffee to be in its “third wave” of development.

The first wave.
The first wave.

The news came out in a Denver Post story about a Hong Kong-based company, Smartco International, teaming up with Colorado schools to create innovative brew methods. Early in the article, Smartco Vice President Brian Gross lays it all out (emphasis ours):

“It’s called the fourth wave of coffee. A lot of automatic machines were actually ruining the coffee, but that’s what the third wave was. The new process gives you a chance to appreciate the real flavors.”
The second wave.
The second wave.

The program itself sounds pretty cool, tasking students from Adams City High School and the Metropolitan State University of Denver with creating new brewers for ideal coffee consumption. It’s a design project with real-world applications, and the schools have brought inย World Aeropress and Brewers Cup Champion Andy Sprengerย to assist students seeking to learn more about roasting, brewing, and tasting.

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But the Denver Post article closes with this loose explanation of coffee “waves”:

First wave: Marked by the start of instant coffee, such as Folgers, when anyone could boil water at home and make coffee.

Second wave: Seen as the start of expensive specialty coffee at shops, and Mr. Coffee machines at home.

Third wave: Coffee started to be treated like wine, and espresso and single-serve machines emerged for home use.

Fourth wave: A new focus on the whole coffee experience beginning at the farming operations through roasting and brewing. A barista’s job started becoming an art. There is also a focus on low- or non-pressurized brewing methods to allow for tasting more flavors.

Third wave.
Third wave.

We reached out to Trish Rothgeb, the coffee luminary who coined the term “third wave coffee” back in 2002. Rothgeb, who owns Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in San Francisco, had this to say about Smartco Vice President Brian Gross and his wave claims:

The paper should do some research instead of taking one guy’s word for it.

Read the whole article here.ย Comments are open.

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